Summary and book reviews of Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

A Memoir

By Anna Quindlen

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2012,
    208 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2013,
    224 pages.

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Book Summary

In this irresistible memoir, the #1 New York Times bestselling author writes about her life and the lives of women today, looking back and ahead - and celebrating it all - as she considers marriage, girlfriends, our mothers, faith, loss, all that stuff in our closets, and more.

It's odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to young woman to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn't know who I was. Then I invented someone, and became her. Then I began to like what I'd invented. And finally I was what I was again.

It turned out I wasn't alone in that particular progression.

As she did in her beloved New York Times columns, and in A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Quindlen says for us here what we may wish we could have said ourselves. Using her past, present, and future to explore what matters most to women at different ages, Quindlen talks about

Marriage: "A safety net of small white lies can be the bedrock of a successful marriage. You wouldn't believe how cheaply I can do a kitchen renovation."

Girlfriends: "Real friends offer both hard truths and soft landings and realize that it's sometimes more important to be nice than to be honest."

Our bodies: "I've finally recognized my body for what it is, a personality-delivery system, designed expressly to carry my character from place to place, now and in the years to come. It's like a car, and while I like a red convertible or even a Bentley as well as the next person, what I really need are four tires and an engine."

Parenting: "Being a parent is not transactional. We do not get what we give. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward: We are good parents, not so they will be loving enough to stay with us, but so they will be strong enough to leave us."

From childhood memories to manic motherhood to middle age, Quindlen uses the events of her own life to illuminate our own. Along with the downsides of age, she says, can come wisdom, a perspective on life that makes it both satisfying and even joyful. So here's to lots of candles, plenty of cake.

ADVICE TO MY YOUNGER SELF
Anna Quindlen
from
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

RECENTLY MY TWENTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER ASKED ME what message I would give to my own twenty-two-year-old self if I could travel back in time. I instantly had two responses, one helpful, one not. On the one hand, I would tell my younger self that she should stop listening to anyone who wanted to smack her down, that she was smart enough, resourceful and hardworking enough, pretty terrific in general. On the other hand, I would have to break the bad news: that she knew nothing, really, about anything that mattered. Nothing at all. Not a clue.

You don't know what you don't know when you're young. How could you? People who are older nod sagely and say you'll learn - about love, about marriage, about failing and falling down and getting up and trying to stagger on toward success, about work and children and what really matters, in general and to you. It's not, they'll say, what's on your business card, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In the opening lines of the book, Anna Quindlen says about the arc of her life: "First I was who I was. Then I didn't know who I was. Then I invented someone, and became her." Looking back over your own life, do you identify with Quindlen's experience? Do you think you've "invented" yourself as you've grown older, or become who you always were? And how would you differentiate between the two?


  2. Anna Quindlen loves everything about books - from the musty smell of old bookstores, to the excuse reading provides to be alone. Books, she writes, "make us feel as though we're connected, as though the thoughts and feelings we believe are singular and sometimes nutty are shared by others, that we are all more alike than different." What do ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Oh wow, does Quindlen ever get it! Her essays are insightful, perceptive, poignant and wise as she addresses so much of our shared Boomer experiences: marriage and kids, the importance of girlfriends, expectations and let-downs, aging, and premonitions of mortality (Jill S). I thought Quindlen was talking about me and as I read - sentence after sentence, word after word - I was convinced she was writing my thoughts, my feelings. Her searching examination of her adventures is touching, loving, and joyful. Her wisdom is obvious (Bob S).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (1187 words).

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

A graceful look at growing older from a wise and accomplished writer - sure to appeal to her many fans, women over 50 and readers of Nora Ephron and similar authors.

Library Journal

Quindlen attracted eager readers with her Times column 'Life in the 30s.' Now she's in her fifties and ready to talk about women's lives as a whole.

Publishers Weekly

Quindlen holds for the most part a blithe, benign view of growing older. Yet in moments when she dares to peer deeper, such as at her Catholic faith or within the chasm of solitude left by children having left home, she bats away her platitudinous reassurances and approaches a near-searing honesty.

The Washington Post

Where Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake succeeds is in Quindlen's warm yet pithy discussions about feminism, aging, the uselessness of stuff and the importance of girlfriends - "the joists that hold up the house of our existence."

Reader Reviews
Karen Foote

1st time reader of Anna Quinlen
Personally I enjoyed the book as I am 66 and know some of what the author is talking about. Also I have been married for 46 years. I can't wait for Anna to out a grandmother's view book as it will be just as amusing.

Jana

Extremely disappointed
I have always been a fan of Quindlen’s writing, but I was extremely disappointed in this book. Being a baby boomer myself, I was looking forward to some amusing insights to help with the ageing process, but I found this book to be a collection of ...   Read More

R. Dodd

Disappointing
I thought this was going to be a thoughtful humorous reflection on a baby boomer wife/mother in her mature years. Instead it is a narcissistic rambling of life lived in wealth and privilege. Not interested.

Chris (Centerport, NY)

Not her best but good
As a fan of Anna Quindlen, I wanted the pages to jump right out of the book so I could devour them as I have with many of her other books. I wanted to savour each word and grow from all of her hard earned wisdom as I have in the past. As a woman in ...   Read More

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The Novels of Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen's memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake has received rave reviews from BookBrowse readers, but it is just one of her many beloved books; check out the list below for more information on her novels:

Every Last One Every Last One (2010): Mary Beth Latham is first and foremost a mother, whose three teenaged children come first, before her career as a landscape gardener, or even her life as the wife of a doctor. Caring for her family and preserving their everyday life is paramount. And so, when one of her sons, Max, becomes depressed, Mary Beth becomes focused on him, and is blindsided by a shocking act of violence. What happens afterward is a testament to the power of a woman's love and determination, and to the invisible line of ...

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